Book Review: World War Z

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Who reads these pesky books anymore?

While it does feel like if you wait long enough, a movie adaptation will eventually appear if you don’t feel like reading the book, I can’t begin to figure out how Hollywood can churn out a movie even remotely resembling this book. Strangely enough, it isn’t because of incredibly written characters, emotions, or settings. It’s only due to the unconventional nature of the storytelling.

I love to read. I also love zombie lore. So why is it I haven’t read any zombie apocalypse novels until now? I guess I didn’t know where to start. Or, hell, that zombie apocalypse novels really existed. Plus, admittedly, one of my main attractions to zombies is the guiltless gratuitous violence. Reading about bashing zombie brain matter ain’t quite as gratifying in text as it is in a video game or *some* movies. When I saw ads for a zombie apocalypse movie with Brad Pitt’s face plastered all over I knew I was going to see it. When I learned it was based on a novel, I was obligated to read said novel.

Here’s my theory: The author, Max Brooks, probably isn’t an idiot. I’m sure he and his publishing company know that zombie stuff isn’t generally taken very seriously by critics, literature snobs, and the general public (See if I save your asses when the apocalypse DOES arrive). Therefore, they probably had a closed door discussion during which his agent and such said, “Nobody but the same dead head crew that read the Survival Guide is gonna read a freakin’ zombie novel.” So they had to get critics to rave about the book. And what better way to get lit and critiquing snobs to rave about a book than to do something different. Seriously. I can picture some of my creative writing professors waxing poetic about this novel just because it takes an unconventional approach to book writing. These would be the same professors who swore off the fantasy and sci-fi genres. And don’t get me started on NY Times reviewers. I tried reading movie reviews on their websites a couple of times before. Exhausting is all they are.

The book is built as a compilation of interviews the “main character” conducts ten years after World War Z actually takes place. There are significant pros and cons to this storytelling approach.

The pros I examined: You get a holistic view of the entire world’s reaction to the zombie virus outbreak. The author is very tuned into each country’s political, social and economical situation before the war. This is a theme laced throughout the book. The interviewees are constantly pointing blame at their inept government leaders. And yet each situation is unique to each country, which I thought was pretty cool. He also didn’t have to worry about writing a main character that a lot of readers wouldn’t click with. The main character asks a few questions to his interviewees throughout the novel, and that’s about it. Well, except for the beginning when he sets the stage for the big “Why.” I’ll give you a hint: it isn’t because we just like gratuitous zombie violence.

I’ll admit, I have a hard time finding more pros to writing a book this way. There’s no main character to relate to. By the time I got into one character’s history and story he was moving on to someone else. The common threads of pain, despair, and loss are all there, and I have particular images still stuck in my mind, but I had a hard time weaving a fluid tale from it all. Hell, after I read the book I looked at the summary on Wikipedia and was like, “Oh, so THAT’S how it all went down!” Also, everything is passive. One basic and helpful writing advice I was given while paying a state university a stupid amount of money for a creative writing degree was, “Show, don’t tell.” This book is all telling and no showing. Therefore, while reading, there’s little to no anticipation or fear felt by the part of the reader. It’s all over. Mankind survived. Here’s a little bit of how they did it.

World War Z has taught me it isn’t necessarily bad that zombies aren’t taken seriously. I guess I’m conditioned to appreciate them in their B-movie gratuitous violence glory, and not in the literary sense. With that being said, I’m still open to reading more zombie apocalypse-centric novels that maybe don’t try so hard. Please help me out with any suggestions for reading material!

I do plan on seeing World War Z in the near future. I am bracing myself for the possibility of enjoying the movie more than the book for the first time, no matter how loosely based I’m sure the film is.

Torchlight II

torchlight_2_black_logo_wallpaper-wideTake THIS, Diablo III!

I finally wrapped up a Casual playthrough of Torchlight II this weekend! I preordered the game last summer so I could dabble in the first Torchlight for free for crying out loud! I believe this was when Hubby and I were playing Diablo III as well? My memory of that time period is a bit fuzzy, as my life was a cycle of work, feed baby, change baby, nap, repeat. I do recall being a master at playing games while nursing, burping, and rocking our baby to sleep. I miss those days. I could get away with playing on my PC because my little one didn’t move. Now it’s like I turn my head for five minutes and he’s tumbling down the stairs or something.

Yeah, our computer/gaming attic isn’t toddler-proof, so I don’t get up there very often anymore, unless it’s to use the treadmill when hubby is home. This leaves very little PC gaming time for me. Maybe someday we’ll have the money for a gaming laptop. For the last six months or so when I have the opportunity to sit at my computer for a little while, I’ve been playing Torchlight II.

When I fired up Torchlight II, I decided to be an Embermage. Mages are usually my thing. I love standing back, casting fancy magic, and letting my pet do most of the melee work. My idea worked out pretty good for me. Especially when I discovered Hailstorm. Man, that spell is incredible. There are three elements to choose from: Fire, Lightning and Ice. I decided to stick with the ice element mostly, as it tends to freeze/shatter enemies. And Hailstorm rocks. Did I mention that yet?

The only thing that didn’t work out for me was getting gear with ice damage perks. I swear, these RNG games always seem to know exactly what not to give me; which is always the one thing I actually want. And do you think I could get an enchanter to randomly give me an extra ice damage enchant? Hardly. I got a lot of strength bonuses on my gear, though! I try not to let these pesky aspects get to me in RNG-dungeon crawler games, because I know the whole point for every other player in the world is to farm until your eyes bleed. And at least they don’t expect you to spend real money to get what you want. *Cough*Diablo III*Cough*

Speaking of farming, the random map generator and other goodies you unlock after beating the final boss are pretty awesome features that I wish I had more time to dedicate to. You can start your end-game experiences there, or plunge right into a New Game+.

Fresh after playing Diablo III, I especially loved starting off each gaming session with the following three options: Single Player, LAN, or online mode. The first Torchlight somehow missed online co-op mode, which I find strange for this type of game. For those of you turned off by such a lonely experience, Runic games heard your cries.

I liked this game enough to keep coming back to it when I just as easily could have given up on trying to finish it. Most of the features from the first game return with improvements. I liked teaching my pet spells. Though I did forget to feed him fish a lot of the time. I have fishing relapses from playing WoW and generally find fishing boring, so I didn’t do too much of it anyway. But the leveling, dungeon-exploring, and item collecting were all fun ways for me to pass the time at a casual level. And I don’t doubt it is just as fun for the more hardcore group as well!

Anyone else play this game as a different class and on a (real) difficulty have any input you’d like to share?

E3 Console Wars: Shena’s Take

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Oh, gee, it’s black! (PS4)

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And so is this one! Shock and awe! (XBox One)

Up until Sony’s press conference that I stayed up late for last night, I wasn’t very enthused about the next generation of gaming. I mean, the Wii U has been released for months and I don’t yet own it. Do I plan to? Hopefully. Nintendo has not yet disappointed me with my favorite franchises (Mario Kart, Kirby, Super Mario…) and Hubby might just die if he doesn’t have access to the eventual Legend of Zelda U release. The New Super Mario Bros. Wii U (Or whatever the hell it’s called) looks fun, yeah, but it also looks like a shinier version of the game I already own on the Wii. Not enough to make me think I “need” the newer Wii just yet. If they give a release date for Bayonetta 2, then yes, I will pester my husband to make sure we have one in time for that game. Hopefully Nintendo announces some core games set to be released in the near future to rev up their consumers just a bit more.

The real question, of course, is whether a family is going to opt for the new Playstation or new XBox. There are hardly enough console exclusives between the two anymore to get the average family (and average income) to want both on launch. When it came to 360 and PS3, we weren’t sure which system we were going to go with for a while. We saved our pennies, all the while observing and debating. I worked at GameStop at the time, so I was very tuned into everything that was going on. Yes, the 360 was cheaper on release, but also more cheaply made! I could not fathom the number of people who purchased or had to swap out multiple 360 systems due to the infamous Red Ring. And they kept giving Microsoft more of their money! I couldn’t believe it! Every week before we sent out our defective games and systems shipment, our backroom was loaded to the ceiling with broken 360s. It got to the point where GameStop stopped offering store warranties on the things for a while. In the end, we figured we would rather cough up the extra dough and have a system that proved to be more reliable. Plus, I rationalized, I would have a system to play all my PS1 and PS2 games on when my PS2 died.

My PS2 is still alive and kicking, by the way.

And so is that fat 60GB PS3 we purchased. And we use that for everything. We swapped out the hard drive because we filled it. It is our entertainment hub for all of our Blu-rays and DVDs, Netflix, Hulu and Vudu. We don’t pay for cable so these streaming services are gold to us. So, yes, I will admit that our video game console has turned into more than just something to play games on. But when it comes to E3, I want to see games and game-related features on the systems.

Over the last few weeks, all the rumors and speculation about the nasty crap Microsoft was pulling with the XBox One left a bad taste in my mouth. I felt like it set a bad precedent for the future of gaming, and thus, deflated most of my interest with the next-gen consoles. The enormous backlash they received was deserved, I feel. The announcements/rumors about the XB1 requiring always online (which turned into a “once every 24 hours” requirement) struck a bad chord. Especially with Americans frustrated with the recent revelation that their government is, and has been, putting that pesky Patriot Act to use. Most of us (like myself) always suspected the surveillance was going on and are none-too-surprised, but it leads to speculation about where to draw the line, what is “privacy” when we are constantly connected on an online and global scale, and what does “Home of the Free” even mean anymore? I don’t mean to make this political, I’m just saying the timing was really bad. And the concept was worse.

Sony smartened up this round. They waited. They watched. When they saw Microsoft make their announcement and observed the backlash that followed, they went the opposite direction. As with the PS3, they have a system that is capable of requiring constant online connectivity and DRM, but they’re going the safe route. Last night they announced there’s no online requirement to play disc-based games, no necessity to log on to PSN every whenever to, I don’t know, monitor the games you’re playing and make sure you aren’t letting your friend borrow them or something? All the mumbo-jumbo with used games Microsoft talked about confused me. I like to think I’m a pretty good reader. Yet I still had a hard time wrapping my head around what you can, can’t, must, and don’t have to do whenever you buy a game for that system. I’d rather not bother with any of that crap. According to Sony’s press conference last night, I won’t have to.

Then there’s the pricing. I’m one of those crazy people who spent $600 on a PS3, so I’d be a bit of a hypocrite if I spoke much on that. After finding out the XB1 was set to release at $499, I crossed my fingers that the PS4 would be the same price or less. Again, Sony learned their lesson from the last round and priced this system a lot lower. Not only does the XB1 cost more, but the long term dollar impact of potentially being charged a fee by the retailers whenever you buy a used game (if I am understanding it correctly) remains to be seen. Plus you have to figure in your online memberships for both consoles if you want to play online multiplayer. I’m also safely assuming retail costs for games will go up an average of $10 or so from here on out.

Gaming is more expensive than it used to be, and people don’t have the disposable income they used to have. I spend all day working with people who have lost their jobs and are struggling to find something else that will hopefully pay something comparable to their last salary before their unemployment insurance runs out. Guess what? 95% of the time the new job they “settle” with is significantly lower paying than their last one. Many people go without cable and internet to make ends meet. Microsoft is telling them not to bother trying to save up for a XB1, because it’ll turn into an overpriced paperweight if they have to turn their internet off for a month or two to catch up on bills. I also live in a very rural area and meet with people every day who don’t have internet access. THEY DO EXIST.

I think the collective heads of a bunch of Microsoft Executive-So-and-Sos got a little too swollen with the success of the 360. Seems to me that they’re asking their fanbase to put up with an awful lot of crap. Honestly, I couldn’t care less about Halo or many of the other exclusive games. Except Killer Instinct.  I played the first one to death because it came with the SNES my parents bought me. I’m more excited about new IPs, and Sony is brave enough to take the plunge with great new IPs for their 7 year old and the new baby on the way.

For people who are already Playstation gamers, the PSP requirement to play online is a low blow. I feel for you guys. That was the only part of Sony’s press conference that felt shady to me. Don’t get me wrong, I love my PSP membership and enjoy the free games and betas because of it. But it is all about having options. Not being mandated to fork over more money. Free online was one of the big Playstation selling points up until now. And really, how many games are released that don’t include some sort of online multiplayer anymore? Very few, and their numbers grow increasingly thinner by the day.

Sony has finally redeemed themselves to me. With the release of the uber-expensive PS3 and allowing Microsoft to dominate gaming for a while, I’m psyched that they are making smarter moves and listening to their consumers. I’m also excited to see what the Indie developers they picked up have planned. And now that I do video game blogging and social media, I know I’ll be putting that “Share” button built into my controller to good use!

I know Hubby and I will be speaking with our wallets more so this gen of gaming than the last. As much as I still absolutely love gaming and try to find time to play a little every day, priorities change when you have a toddler. Okay, mostly my expendable income changes, but you get my drift. Thanks to Sony’s E3 press conference I can’t wait to see what the future of gaming has in store.

Here’s hoping (and sort of not hoping) that Nintendo can convince me I need a Wii U before E3 is over!

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (3DS)

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Faster, Epona! Faster!

I’ve been a bad, bad gamer. *Like this post if you read that last sentence in the Red Queen from Resident Evil‘s voice.*

Why, you ask? Well, I feel like a bad gamer because I’ve only just completed Ocarina of Time for the first time. Yes, including the N64 release. I never owned a N64 and never got to play OoT. I’ve always liked the 2D Zelda games, like The Legend of Zelda, Link to the Past, Phantom Hourglass, and Link’s Awakening. But when it comes to Link’s adventures in 3D… I’ve always been, well, intimidated. My first experience with a 3D Zelda title was at my high school best friend’s house. She handed me an awkward, clunky N64 controller that I had very little experience with in the middle of a dungeon and told me to kill some monster. I can’t recall if it was Ocarina of Time or Majora’s Mask. Doesn’t really matter which game it was. Point is: I got killed rather quickly and figured the new LoZ games were way too hard and complicated for me. I’d settle with playing Link’s Awakening over and over again for the rest of my life.

Fast forward about 15 years (yikes!) and I still hadn’t touched a home console Legend of Zelda release since that day. Which is funny, considering I’ve watched my husband play every one except for Wind Waker. He’s currently plowing his way through Skyward Sword, a beast all of its own. When we got our 3DS a year or so ago, we purchased the 3DS release of OoT. It is one of Hubby’s favorite games, and I rationalized that this was my chance to finally get over my fear of 3D Zelda games. After all, it is on a portable console, so I can pretend it never was a N64 game.

Seeing as the general consensus among a lot of gamers seems to be that OoT is a close second favorite to LttP, I figured I needed to stop making excuses and play it. After picking up and putting down the 3DS version a couple of times (I never made it far past the Deku Tree intro dungeon) I decided it was time to get serious and finally see what all of the fuss was about.

I’m also a “bad” gamer because I used a strategy wiki for almost the entire game. Do I feel bad about it? No! Why not? A- Water Temple. B- Have you ever tried pulling out a shiny object in front of a toddler? My son is 14 months old, pseudo-walking, and LOVES anything adults don’t want him touching. Whenever the 3DS comes out of hiding he is grabbing and pulling down on the top flap. Whenever the laptop is out, he creeps over and mashes on the keyboard. Whenever the television is on, he is pounding his dirty hands on the screen. My point is, unless he is napping, I have a hard time concentrating on whatever I’m doing on a screen. Another excuse for starting this game over half a dozen times.

I am not spoiler tagging anything because I feel like I’m the only gamer over the age of 15 who hasn’t played this game. Plus, the basic LoZ formula we’ve all come to know and love is the same: adventure Hyrule, solve puzzles, complete dungeons, save Zelda.

And I can say, overall I really enjoyed this game. I feel like it aged rather well. The lock-on targeting is sloppy: but hey, at least it has a lock on feature, unlike a lot of other action/adventure games I can think of. And I like the seemingly old school inventory management. Pausing a game to equip items and tools is way easier than the ‘cycling through your inventory in real-time with a transparent menu screen’ system in a lot of games nowadays. And the story is, well… It’s a Zelda game, okay! The premise with the Triforce was really cool, as well as the sages you get to save. They’re so grateful, they give you their medallion, “Adding their power to your own”… or something. The medallion just fills an empty spot in your inventory. Really.

The Legend of Zelda series never ceases to amaze me with the completely random things the player is expected to figure out in order to advance or obtain special items. OoT is no exception, both thankfully and frustratingly. Given the game’s title, a lot of my questions sounded like “How was I supposed to know to play the Song of Storms there?” Or, “How was I supposed to know to play the Song of Time there?” I mean, really. Zelda’s Lullaby was the only no brainer because they plop that Triforce symbol down whenever they want you playing it. Sometimes there is a symbol for the Song of Time, but not always. And why is there a Sun Song but not a Moon Song? It confuses me.

I think my favorite optional item was the Biggoron sword. That sword packs a punch. Getting the Biggoron sword was such a chore. I was mainly annoyed because I was about halfway through the fetch quests when I realized I couldn’t finish because I didn’t have Blue Fire yet. I went back to what I was doing, completed the Ice Cavern (a sort of mini-dungeon) and finally melted King Zora. Anyway, it was worth it, because afterwards I only took it off for the mandatory Master Sword wielding in the final battle. I can’t believe I let that big stupid Goron talk me into giving him 200 rupees for that piece of crap sword he spent 7 years making. All it did was sit in my inventory because I was too afraid to break it.

Puzzles have always been the hardest part about LoZ games. Usually the only “hard” aspect of the boss fights is solving the “What the heck am I supposed to hit this guy with?” mini-puzzle. I hope someone out there agrees with me when I say the hardest boss fight in this game is definitely Bongo Bongo. What. A. Prick. I died more in this fight than the two forms of the final boss fight combined! I think I had like, 5 arrows left after messing with Bongo. Guess I should’ve gotten another arrow capacity upgrade. The encounter with the twin witches was a lot of fun. And killing the fire dragon would have been much more difficult if I didn’t use a strategy guide that told me I could hang over the edge and not bother dodging falling boulders.

Overall, when I beat the final boss, I had 3 bottles, 18 hearts, all three swords, and all the arrows except for the Ice Arrow. Oops. I know for a fact one of my missing heart pieces is from fishing. I hate fishing, period. Even in video games. The difficulty (randomness) of snagging a fish over 10 pounds as little Link proved to be too much for me. The last bottle I needed to get was from collecting poes for weird lady. I figured if I couldn’t beat the final boss with 3 fairies, 18 hearts, the Biggoron sword, taking half damage, and a strategy guide, there was no hope for me.

Technically speaking, the game looks and sounds great on the 3DS. Even better on the 3DS XL, I’m sure. Watching Youtube clips of the N64 version online, I always thought, “Man, that looks so dark and dreary.” The 3DS resolution is cleaned up and quite colorful. The bottom touch screen was integrated quite nicely, I think. You can use it to tap different locations on the map, swap inventory items in and out, and play the ocarina. When feeling lazy, I used my thumbnail and it worked just as well. Upon completing the game, I unlocked the Master Quest. Evidently it is harder and has mirrored dungeon designs. Riiight… Maybe in my next lifetime.

I’m very satisfied I devoted time into experiencing at least one playthrough of Ocarina of Time. I can clearly see how it earned the titles and achievements it did, and how many people consider it one of the best games ever made. Even by today’s standards. In fact, I liked it so much, I’ve decided to start on a quest of my own.

Everyone reading, or even skimming this blog post, needs to help me out! Please cast a vote below and help me decide which home console Legend of Zelda game I should tackle next! I’m already planning on downloading Oracle of Seasons and eventually Oracle of Ages on my 3DS. Those don’t really count, because they look and sound just like one of my favorite games of all time, Link’s Awakening, and don’t intimidate me like the big Link adventures do.